By RON FANFAIR
Canada has spent far too much money fighting a war in Afghanistan rather than using some of those funds to contain and reduce gangs in the country’s under-served and priority neighbourhoods, says Michael Chettleburgh, considered an expert on gangs.
“In the 10 years that Canada will have been in Afghanistan, we will have spent $20 to $25 billion fighting a war we can never win,” Chettleburgh said in his keynote address at the Citizens for the Advancement of Community Development (CACD) awards fundraiser in Mississauga recently. “I am all for protecting young kids in Afghanistan who are at risk. I get that but, are there not wars happening in our own country?
“Let’s take Canada’s 10 largest municipalities and what does that make you, a $2 billion a year investment in the war in Afghanistan. If you look at the population base of the Greater Toronto Area, we could have spent $612 million per year for each of 10 years. Can you imagine what that could have done for a youth at risk?
“Imagine your organization getting a million dollars, or the youths in Jane-Finch, or groups elsewhere that are really struggling…$612 million in this region alone could have got prevention rather than fighting a war in Afghanistan that we will withdraw from in 2011 leaving the Taliban still alive and well…If we can engage in a full-scale peace process in Afghanistan, why can’t we in Jane-Finch, Malvern, and Bramalea?”
The author of Young Thugs: Inside the Dangerous World of Canadian Street Gangs, Chettleburgh said nearly 800 young people have died in Canada during the last eight years, as the result of gang- and drug trade-induced rivalries, with close to 300 in Toronto, the majority of whom were Black youth.
“Some would say these are people who chose that lifestyle, these were gangsters and drug traffickers who deserved their fate,” he said. “Is this not Darwinism at work? I would contest that. These are young people who got caught up in the drug trade and the business of gangs. They are not all the same, in terms of their propensity for violence and criminal behaviour. So, we need to take stock of this.”
Chettleburgh said it took one murder – Jane Creba’s death three years ago – to do what hundreds of fatalities did not do in previous years which was to galvanize the three levels of government and law enforcement agencies into action.
“What we are doing now is playing catch-up with a problem that has been 30 years in the making,” he said. “Those of us who work in the communities have known that street gangs are not a post-2005 phenomenon. This has been with us for more than two decades, but we have been ignoring the roots that have been causing these young people to join gangs in the first place. We are coming late to this problem but, thankfully, we are starting to engage communities.
“Everything we need to know about how to deal with the issue of gangs, we already know. We don’t need more studies or more research into why kids join gangs. We know, for example, that kids as young as eight in some parts of the country are getting involved in gangs. Across the country, we know there are approximately 25,000 young men in street gangs and about 50,000 young women associated with gangs. And this is not just a Toronto issue. It’s a coast to coast problem, not just a big-city problem.
“Back in 2002, we knew that about 25 per cent of Canadian street gang members were African Canadians, followed closely by First Nations youth. Now, we are beginning to see more and more White kids that we don’t typically associate with the risk factors of poverty and discrimination.”
Chettleburgh chided lawmakers for believing that a “get tough on crime stance and war” against street gangs, that includes putting more police officers on the street, building more jails and increasing jail terms will alleviate the problem instead of the prevention commitment that he advocates.
“We need a new consensus to be equally tough on the causes of violence,” he said. “What about a war on poverty, domestic violence, discrimination and oppression? What about a war on the myth-job economy that offers employment to hundreds of thousands of new Canadians in part-time, low paying jobs with no security? What about a war on community deterioration? What about a war on drug addiction?”
The Peel region-based CACD – which provides several life skills and empowerment programs to young people, recognized former Canadian diplomat, Ontario House Speaker and MPP Dr. Alvin Curling, provincial court Judge Marvin Morten and Dr. Anthony Hutchinson for community service.